MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Mole Lake Delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development

Published by MAC on 2002-09-02

Mole Lake Delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development

Monday September 2, 2002

Johannesburg, South Africa.

[From Midwest Treaty Council]

As the heads of State arrive in Johannesburg for the photo opportunities and handshakes in the final days of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Sokaogon Chippewa delegation heads home to Wisconsin. The delegation is expected to arrive in the United States Tuesday afternoon, around the time that Secretary of State Colin Powel will land in South Africa for a brief, largely symbolic visit.

One of the only world leaders who will not be attending is George Bush whose Administration has made daily headlines in South Africa for blocking efforts to agree on any timelines for implementing plans to address such vital issues as access to clean water, sanitation, poverty, global warming, renewable energy, biodiversity, or food security which were agreed upon at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago. The headline for the Johannesburg Sunday Times reads "Summit Leaves USA Standing Alone". Delegates representing the other nations and NGO's express their disappointment that a country with only 7% of the world's population which consumes 25% of the world's natural resources annually and generates the most pollution is uninterested in any agreement to become less wasteful, more esponsible.

Sokaogon Chippewa delegate Ken Van Zile is anxious to return home at the start of the annual ricing season. "I feel we have done our part and I don't see any need to hang around and watch the fanfare. Frankly, I am miffed that my country, which is the richest and most powerful nation on earth, has shown such a blatant disregard for the rest of humanity. As Ojibwa, we have always been taught to share what we have. It looks like its all about money. I have been inspired by the countless small groups and communities from all over the world that have been represented here. We have met indigenous people from all over the world who are fighting similar battles. These are the people that will ultimately create a sustainable future. Being with them for this short time has reaffirmed my hope for the future of our people. Our Tribe is as committed as ever to protect our water, and wild rice. This is far better than cash in the bank. I can't wait to get back home for ricing.

Fellow delegate Robert Van Zile agrees. "Nothing has really changed. Corporations are now just using different language. Buzzwords like 'sustainability' are meaningless without the commitment to do things differently. It will take the work of visionaries within the corporations to make a real difference. This trip has strengthen my resolve to continue to oppose destructive mine projects such as Crandon and help other tribes and communities preserve their land and water. I realize how our struggle against the Crandon project is similar to many others around the world. I am heartened by international community's willingness to help us defeat this short - sighted, destructive mine."

On Friday, August 30, 2002, the Sokaogon Chippewa delegation along with their technical expert Roman Ferdinand and their lawyer Glenn Reynolds met with BHP Billiton CEO Brian Gilbertson and staff to discuss the Crandon proposal and the Company's recent suggestion to sell the project lands to Wisconsin. The meeting followed the unveiling of a three-year study of the international mining industry by an independent agency. The work was funded by the largest mining companies in the world and is called "Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development" (MMSD).

Glenn Reynolds, the Sokaogon Attorney who was involved in arranging the meeting was pleased with the outcome. "This was an historic event. Opening a dialogue with the community most impacted by a project is a key tenet of the industry's new vision of sustainable mining. We had a good exchange of views and potential remedies to resolve this controversy. Although no concessions were made, I think the Company executives could see that mining in this area is completely incompatible with the concept of sustainability and respect for the integrity of indigenous cultures. The Company appears committed to find a resolution that satisfies all parties. Mr. Gilbertson was courteous, inquisitive and generous with his time".

The meeting, which was supposed to last one hour continued for almost one and one half hours. It began with a prayer and a pipe ceremony conducted by the Sokaogon spiritual leader, Robert Van Zile. The "no-smoking" ban in the corporate boardroom was temporarily lifted to allow the ceremony to take place in which the BHP Billiton executives fully participated.

International Groups involved in the public release of the MMSD project encouraged the industry in the name of sustainability to recognize "no-go zones" or areas which because of high environmental sensitivity and the presence of indigenous communities should never be mined under any circumstances. "If there ever was a "no-go" zone, this is it," noted Reynolds.

Aside from higher mercury levels that come from air deposition, the water in Rice Lake and Swamp Creek is as pure as when the glaciers receded over 10,000 years ago. While the zinc and copper market is currently flooded with ore, there are no more ecosystems like the Wolf River or Rice Lake that are being produced. The temporary benefits accorded to a handful of people in the local area are not worth losing such a precious and irreplaceable resource. Roman Ferdinand reminded the Company executives that although the Crandon deposit is a rich ore body, the waste it will produce has one of the highest toxic chemical compositions of any ore in North America. "The only engineering solutions available to prevent heavy metals and acids from eventually washing downstream for the next ten thousand years is to pump, treat and mitigate forever. That is a terrible legacy for future generations".

"The Crandon mine proposal is a global issue," noted Robert Van Zile. This Project is a metaphor for this whole conference. "Water is necessary for life. Metals are needed for wealth. Which is more important? I will not sit back and let corporate greed rob our future generations of their rights to have access to pure water."

"We are actually lucky, said Ken Van Zile. "At least our lakes, streams and wild rice are still pristine. Some communities are not so fortunate."

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